CORVALLIS — A former Eastern Oregon University athletic director is making Cascade Collegiate Conference history in more ways than one.
Rob Cashell, who served as Eastern’s AD from 2001-12, is beginning his 10th year as the conference’s commissioner, making his the second longest tenure in conference history.
The span has been a busy and fast-paced one for Cashell, who has helped the CCC expand from 12 to 23 schools, counting full and associate members. Today, the CCC’s reach extends north to the University of British Columbia and south to Arizona Christian University in Phoenix.
Cashell speaks humbly of his role in the conference’s progress, stating the presidents of the colleges and universities in the conference are its driving force.
“The reason we’ve been successful is that we have a great presidents council,” said Cashell, who in early 2019 moved from La Grande to Corvallis with his wife, Heather, and daughter, Elizabeth.
Cashell said his time as the Cascade Collegiate Conference’s commissioner has flown by.
“It seems to have gone by quickly. I’ve enjoyed it and I hope to have another 10 years. I hope to stay as long as they will have me,” he said.
The pace has slowed for Cashell the past 10 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced most CCC schools to sideline much of their athletic programs. The pandemic has made planning, coordinating and organizing burdensome, especially because rules regarding COVID-19 change at a blistering pace.
“It has been important to be flexible because the mandates and rules change so quickly. A new rule one day may not be worth the paper it is written on the next day,” Cashell said.
The commissioner has found the most critical thing to be aware of when working with people during the pandemic is to understand their mindset.
“It is important to meet everybody where they are at emotionally. (The pandemic) effects everyone differently,” Cashell said.
He said understanding this helps with communication and problem solving.
Cashell is less than a year from overtaking Howard Morris, CCC’s commissioner from 1994-2003, as the conference’s longest-serving leader, but this is far from his focus. He is excited by what he sees on the horizon for the CCC in the short term and long term. He is hopeful, for example, that men’s and women’s basketball will be able to start up in March or April.
Cashell also said he feels optimistic about the outlook for CCC’s baseball program, especially because Eastern Oregon University reinstated its program after cutting it in 2005 because of financial problems. The addition means the CCC will have a six-team baseball league when collegiate action begins again. The presence of a CCC baseball league, which requires a minimum of six members, will give teams the opportunity to win an automatic post-season playoff berth, Cashell said.
Previously the schools with baseball in the CCC were part of an NAIA West division. It was composed of teams from the CCC and the Frontier Conference and offered no automatic bids for NAIA post-season play to teams based on their records.
Cashell also said he is enthusiastic about the possible addition of CCC lacrosse leagues for men and women in the near future. Five schools in the CCC have added or will be adding the sport, including EOU, which launched a women’s lacrosse program in 2019. Eastern’s team was scheduled to begin play in 2021 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“We are paying close attention to men’s and women’s lacrosse. It is trending in the right direction, so we may be adding it in the future,” he said.
Cashell served as the athletic director for the University of Montana Western before coming to Eastern in 2001. He said experience as an athletic director is vital preparation for becoming a commissioner. He said the positions are involved in many of the same tasks, including scheduling. Cashell — who was named the CCC’s athletic director of the year for 2007-08 and 2009-10 — said he enjoys taking on the challenges this work poses.
“I’m pretty organized. Attention to detail comes naturally,” he explained.
He said as CCC commissioner he works with just about everybody who comes into contact with athletics at the college and university level, including sports information directors, presidents and registrars, just as he did as an athletic director.
“The difference is now I’m working with 23 schools instead of one,” he said.
Cashell said he finds his job fulfilling because it gives him the opportunity to provide meaningful opportunities for student athletes.
“This is my passion,” he said
This passion ties in with the philosophy of the NAIA, which focuses on developing and providing opportunities for the student athletes, which drew Cashell to the collegiate athletic organization years ago.
“I am an NAIA guy and will always continue to be one,” Cashell said.
He said it is easier to work in Corvallis as CCC commissioner because he is closer to more member schools and transportation hubs, including airports. His wife, Heather, who previously worked at EOU, is now the executive assistant for Oregon State University’s general counsel, and their daughter, Elizabeth, is a junior at Oregon State.
Cashell said he and his family members always will have a warm place in their hearts for La Grande.
“We love La Grande,” he said. “It is a wonderful place and is filled with wonderful people.”